Dress reform movements of the nineteenth century were subversive of certain societal norms. "Aesthetic" dress, for example, rejected the rigid silhouette of Victorian fashion in favor of loose-fitting garments. Some women also promoted bloomer reform styles and divided skirts as a healthier, more rational approach to dressing. By the late nineteenth century, bifurcated styles had found their way into sportswear, although they were never widely adopted as fashionable dress.
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The social and political landscape in the early twentieth century was fundamentally changed by progressive movements like woman’s suffrage, as well as epic events such as the First and Second World Wars. During World War II, national commitment to the cause was sartorially expressed in a variety of waysfrom the functional denim jumpsuits worn by real-life "Rosie the Riveters" to the military uniforms designed by American couturier Mainbocher for enlisted members of the U.S. Navy WAVES division.
Postwar America saw a rise in the development of the suburban lifestyle. Much of popular culture encouraged women to relinquish their wartime jobs and focus again on familypromoting social roles for women that were, to a degree, reminiscent of the nineteenth century. Fashions such as Claire McCardell’s famous "popover" dresses were designed for a range of women’s domestic activitiesfrom cooking to at-home entertainingenabling women to stay chic while keeping house. The teenager also emerged as an important cultural and consumer force in the 1950s, setting trends in music and fashion. Yet beneath the bright suburban façade existed tensionsan intense fear of Communism, the beginnings of youth rebellion, sexual repressionthat were poised to explode in the 1960s.